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Microsoft Bends for the GPL to Qualify as Open Format in MA
Thursday, March 24 2005 @ 11:37 PM EST

I thought you'd want to know that at soon as the new version of the State of Massachusetts Information Technology Division's Enterprise Technical Reference Model was posted, I wrote to Massachusetts to find out the one thing I know we all want to know, which is: Did Microsoft change its license in order to qualify their XML as an Open Format? As you will recall, Eric Kriss, Secretary for the Executive Office of the Administration of Finance for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, when he announced the Open Format on January 14th, said this about their representations to him:

"But what I want to discuss informally today is we have been in a conversation with Microsoft for several months with regard to the patent that they have and the license surrounding their use of XML to specify specifically .DOC files in Microsoft Office 2003.

"They have made representations to us recently they are planning to modify that license, and we believe, if they do so in the way that we understand that they have spoken about -- we will leave it obviously to them to describe exactly what they are going to do -- that it is our expectation that when we do issue the next iteration of the standard that, in fact, the Microsoft, what are proprietary formats, will be deemed to be Open Formats because they will no longer have the restrictions on their use they currently have.

"That would include potentially, and, again, we need to wait for the final designation of this by Microsoft, it would include Word Processing ML, which is the wrapper around .DOC files, Spreadsheet ML, which is the wrapper around .XLS files and the form template schemas".

So, did they modify it? Here is the answer I got from Linda Hamel, Esq., General Counsel, Information Technology Division:

"Yes. It added a provision to the license stating that users could use ANY software (that would include GPL licensed open source desktop software) to read government records created using the MS XML reference schema."

You can read about the changes here.

Jean Paoli, Senior Director, XML Architecture, for Microsoft, explains the changes like this:

"The specific clarifications made to the license terms are as follows:

  • "As previously agreed and communicated to the EU, we are affirming that the license rights we are offering are perpetual.

  • "We are clarifying some language, such as providing a full definition of "enabling technology" and confirming that our reference to patents includes continuations, continuations in part and reissues of patents.

  • "We are acknowledging that end users who merely open and read government documents that are saved as Office XML files within software programs will not violate the license.

"We are extremely pleased to have had the opportunity to work with Massachusetts on this issue and are grateful for its feedback, which enabled us to add that much more clarity around the issues to which Microsoft had already committed in the original iteration of the license agreement. The clarified form of license is now available online at for anyone who wants to take advantage of it. Of course, those of you already taking advantage of the original iteration of the license terms will receive the benefits of the clarifications without any further action required on your part.

"The success of the open and royalty-free licensing program for the Office XML Reference Schemas is one of the factors that fuels my excitement over the continuing realization of our vision for XML in Office. The vision of XML on the desktop and true interoperability across heterogeneous systems, allowing documents to be archived, restructured, aggregated and re-used in new and dynamic ways is becoming a reality."

After you've read it all and digested it, remember that they are looking for comments before April 1.

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